Death is one of the few things that unites everyone. Whether we fear it for ourselves or for our loved ones, odds are you think about death every day. That’s why it’s such a powerful tool in storytelling. The death, or potential death, of a character can instantly put everyone on the same emotional level. It’s permanent. It’s inevitable. It’s terrifying.
Well, except in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
For some reason, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has such a blatant, rampant disregard for death it’s comical. Death simply doesn’t matter. A character “dies,” the character comes back, over and over, more times than you probably care to remember. And each time, the audience potentially loses faith in the stakes of the story. Don’t believe us? Let’s run down the list.
“The Dead Speak.” It’s right there in the first words of the opening crawl. All of The Rise of Skywalker hinges on the idea that a character we watched plummet to his death on a space station, which we then saw explode, is still alive. The only explanation the film offers for this is a supporting character we don’t know or trust offhandedly saying Palpatine could’ve used “dark science, cloning, secrets only the Sith knew.” In Star Wars terms? Sure. We’ll buy that. In dramatic terms? Absolutely not. That explanation is so vague it makes the Emperor’s defeat, in this movie as well as Return of the Jedi, pointless. What’s to stop him from using these tricks again and again? Nothing, as far as we know. Maybe more information would provide context but as it stands, the first moments of The Rise of Skywalker make it clear death is meaningless. And it’s only going to get worse.
This is the other obvious example. While on Pasaana, Rey uses her newfound Force powers to blow up a transport ship she, and everyone else, believes has Chewbacca on it. The audience believes it too and, on first viewing, the impact is powerful and instant. “Wow, they really just killed off a main character. I guess this truly is an epic conclusion to the saga.” Fast forward 13 minutes later (literally…we timed it) and Rey realizes that, no, there was a second transport ship and Chewbacca is alive. Even Finn and Poe are confused by this. And while of course we’re happy to still see Chewbacca around, killing him, for a brief moment, gave the characters a grander purpose. They were united in the regret of losing their friend. But no, everyone is fine.
In a scene meant to bring us all to tears, C-3Po says goodbye to his friends as his memory is erased in order to decipher an ancient Sith language. The process works, the adventure continues, and C-3PO has lost all memory of everything he’s been through. Another huge loss for the Star Wars saga. But wait! Of course, R2-D2 has memory banks where he backs up 3PO’s knowledge, and 43 minutes later (again, we timed it), boom. C-3PO is back. No harm, no foul, no follow through on the characters suffering any consequences for their actions.
The easiest characters to kill are new ones. We care about them, because they’re in the movie, but not as much as the characters we know from past movies. So, after spending a few minutes with Zorii Bliss and Babu Frik on Kijimi, we’re certainly bummed when the First Order blows the whole planet to bits. But wait! Who is that flying in the final battle with no explanation of how they escaped a giant exploding planet? You guessed it, Zorii Bliss and Babu Frik. Again, you’re happy to see them but nothing bad happens to anyone.
This one is weird because, obviously, Kylo Ren does actually die in the movie. But think about this. On Pasaana, Rey slices Kylo Ren’s TIE. It crashes and explodes into flames, but he walks out unharmed. Later, on the Death Star ruins, Rey stabs him through the stomach with a lightsaber, all but assuring his doom. However, she heals him only seconds later. Next, in Palpatine’s chamber on Exegol, the Emperor hurls Kylo, now Ben Solo, down a huge cliff. Bye-bye Ben. Only, he somehow makes it back! And then, finally, Ben gives his last ounce of life to bring Rey back from the dead, resulting in his actual death.
Four times. Kylo Ren/Ben Solo dies four times in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. We get that he’s the main villain, villains are superhuman, he’s very strong with the Force, etc. It’s certainly plausible he’d survive each of these attempts. But, when looked at in the larger context of the movie, it obviously adds to the pattern of death being used as a bullshit red herring.
Near the end of The Rise of Skywalker, Rey hears the voices of generations of Jedi to help her defeat Palpatine. All of these Jedi, to our knowledge, are dead. So it was odd to hear Ahsoka Tano’s voice in there since we didn’t know, or think, she was dead. Well, spoiler alert, though it’s not in the movie, co-creator Dave Filoni told us, “There’s no absoluteness that these people are dead,” and that he still has plans for the character. So while The Rise of Skywalker didn’t explicitly kill, and resurrect, Ahsoka Tano, it still plays loose and fast with her life. Was including her a nice wink for fans? Sure. Was it also confusing and irresponsible? That too.
As we near the end of this list, the arguments get a bit less persuasive but still add to the overall picture. For example, Han Solo does not come back to life in The Rise of Skywalker. When he reappears on screen, he’s merely a figment of Ben Solo’s imagination—the personification of his regret and pain. Which actually is kind of cool and poignant. And yet, simply seeing Harrison Ford as Han Solo back on screen at this moment takes away some of the sadness fans felt by him dying. Death means you don’t come back. And yet, there he is. Story-wise, it works. Emotionally, it’s a mixed bag.
Wait. Do these deaths…actually work? Yes, they do. The crazy thing about all of this is Star Wars has a built-in way for the dead to come back that makes sense in canon. (If you’re a Jedi, but still.) That makes all the rest of these that much more disappointing.
Now, you must be thinking, “This can’t only happen in The Rise of Skywalker.” And you’d be right. Obi-Wan Kenobi dies in A New Hope and “comes back” in The Empire Strikes Back. Darth Maul died in The Phantom Menace was brought back in The Clone Wars. There’s a good chance Boba Fett, who “died” in Return of the Jedi, will be back in The Mandalorian. Poe Dameron and R2-D2 were both thought to be dead and came back in The Force Awakens. It happens. But it hasn’t happened with the stunning frequency of this film.
In fact, the only other movie that really comes close on the death toll is The Last Jedi, but in the opposite way. That film kills Luke Skywalker, Supreme Leader Snoke, Paige Tico, Vice Admiral Holdo, Admiral Ackbar, and even Captain Phasma, mercilessly and without a second thought. Were fans mad? Disappointed? Of course. That’s how death should make you feel. The one time The Last Jedi didn’t do that, with Leia being blown out into space only to come back seconds later, is a moment everyone hates.
Of course, many of these stories have good explanations. Poe’s return in The Force Awakens had to do with Oscar Isaac wanting to come back for future films. George Lucas never planned on bringing Darth Maul back, it just happened. Oh, and it’s a big dumb sci-fi movie franchise made for kids. Sure. We get it. But death, somehow, is one of those things that should be taken with at least a hint of seriousness in any story. Not doing so could have serious consequences which, we think, is the case with The Rise of Skywalker.
Updated: 9/11/2020, 6: 29 p.m. ET: : It wasn’t until after this article was published that a friend mentioned I didn’t have General Hux on this list. At first, I thought, “Well it’s because he only dies once.” But then I realized: His death is such an afterthought in the movie, I’d basically forgotten it happened. Which then made me realize…he needs a mention too.
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